How I See San Francisco: Writer Kimberley Lovato
If you want a truly genuine San Francisco experience, you must consult the experts: our friendly locals. Knowledgable, passionate, and always ready with a recommendation for what to do, see, or eat, San Franciscans of all types have been part of our ongoing "How I See San Francisco" series.
Kimberley Lovato is a freelance travel journalist and author of the recently published "Unique Eats and Eateries of San Francisco" and the 12 San Francisco Restaurants You Need to Eat at in 2018, which means she's the perfect person to ask for food recommendations (among other things). Here's what Kimberley, your new best friend, would do in San Francisco, where she would eat, what events she loves to attend and her advice to you, the intrepid explorer and visitor to San Francisco.
What does a typical day in San Francisco look like for you?
My "ideal typical day," would begin by sleeping beyond my normal 6 a.m. wake up. I love to get out and exercise in the mornings, especially on sunny days. So I'd choose from two favorite walks: along Crissy Field to the Golden Gate Bridge (with a high-five to Hopper's Hands, of course), or to the part of the Coastal Trail that goes through the Presidio, from around Baker Beach to the bridge.
Once I've burned off some calories, I'd want to replace them, right away! I'd meet my best friend for coffee at Spyglass or at Saint Frank on Polk Street, where we'd attempt to solve the world's problems over a perfect cappuccino. When that doesn't work, we'd just catch up, gossip, and talk about our latest binge-watch.
Coffee inevitably leads to lunch, so I'd head over Swan Oyster Depot, a solid favorite of mine. However, there is always a line and I am always impatient (I'm working on it). Since I am always in the mood for Mexican food, I might opt instead for tacos at Cala on Fell Street. The restaurant is delicious but pricey. However, their street tacos, served behind the restaurant at lunch, are divine and much easier on my wallet. Tortillas, fillings, and salsa are made fresh every day. I really could eat a taco a day. Does that keep the doctor away?
After lunch, I might window shop on Hayes Street for a bit. There are eclectic boutiques selling shoes, Sake, macaroons, clothing, stationery, and home décor all in a three-block stretch. There are also tons of cafes and restaurants. You could really make an afternoon of it—but I won't. Instead, I'll get my culture on and maybe head to one of our many great museums: SFMOMA, the de Young Museum, or the Asian Art Museum. I admit, I am much more of a small gallery, local art lover. The Minnesota Street Project in Dogpatch has a handful of galleries and studios of local artists inside. SOMArts Cultural Center also has amazing and engaging exhibitions. I love to pop by and see what's up there. If it's the first Friday of the month, I might hold off until 6 p.m., then head to North Beach for the First Friday Art Walk, when businesses and galleries stay open late. Or I'd check out the colorful murals of Clarion Alley and Balmy Alley in the Mission. I never tire of looking at those.
By the end of the afternoon, I'll likely be thinking of happy hour. Ideally, I'd meet up with friends. Since I love champagne (and this is my "ideal typical day"), I'm choosing The Riddler, a champagne bar that serves bubbles from around the world. They also have a cham-bong. Yes, it's a thing.
By now, I'm thinking of food again, but where to go? What am I in the mood for? Ideally, I wouldn't need a reservation—but this is San Francisco and you always need a reservation. It is still my "ideal typical day" fantasy, so I'd go for dim sum in Chinatown at China Live or Hang Ah Tea Room (the oldest dim sum restaurant in America) or Mr. Jiu's for a splurge in the gorgeous dining room.
By now I'm beat, full, and madly in love with San Francisco all over again. To finish my "ideal typical day," I'd hop on the back of a cable car as it chugs up California Street to Grace Cathedral. The fog would roll in and I'd take a blurry photo of the San Francisco skyline, then vow to do it all over again tomorrow.
What should every visitor do at least once?
No one should come to San Francisco and miss a walk or bike ride across the Golden Gate Bridge. And the cable cars. You must ride the cable cars. There are not too many places in the world where you can ride a historical monument, am I right? But if you've been here a few times, or you live here and want to play tourist in your own backyard, I suggest booking an SF Love Tour. Why? Because, for one, you get to ride around the city in a painted, VW hippie bus, complete with beaded curtains and shag carpet! The pictures alone are priceless! They have the standard sightseeing tour that takes you to the Golden Gate Bridge, Lombard Street, Chinatown, Haight-Ashbury, etc.—but you can also grab five of your grooviest friends and book a private and customized four-hour tour. Can you say, "Peace, love and San Francisco!"?
Where do you indulge your artistic side in San Francisco?
I am not an artistic person. By that, I mean I can't paint, or sing, or play a musical instrument. So I live vicariously through those who do. We have amazing museums and galleries, musicians and artists, symphony, opera and ballet in San Francisco. As often as I can, I get out and appreciate those who create and live art, music and dance. I admire and covet their talent.
What's your favorite (yearly) event that happens in San Francisco?
It is hard to pick just one. You can't really be a part of San Francisco and not witness a Chinese New Year parade or don your rainbow wig and participate in Pride. Bay to Breakers, the annual race from the Bay Bridge to the beach, is really fun to watch (or run/walk if you want) and is truly a San Francisco original. Hardly Strictly Bluegrass is such a fun outdoor music festival in Golden Gate Park, with a great atmosphere and fantastic bands. Bonus—it's totally free!
Where and what would you choose for your last meal in San Francisco?
That's totally unfair to make me choose just one place. I'm going to cheat and declare my last meal in San Francisco a progressive one.
- Breakfast: Shrimp and Grits at Brenda's French Soul Food (beignets on the side).
- Mid-morning sweet: The Kouign Amann from B. patisserie. No chocolate, just the plain old Kouign Amann (but, OMG, is it good) .
- Lunch: Nopalito for the Panuchos de Pollo al Pibil or the Pozole. I am a creature of habit and don't think I've ever ordered anything else because these are so good.
- Mid-afternoon snack: Oysters at Swan Oyster Depot. Maybe the line isn't so long now.
- Afternoon tea: The Garden Court at The Palace Hotel, just to get a little fancy in a beautiful setting.
- Happy Hour: A final tequila from Tommy's Mexican Restaurant, whose bar has made it to the World's 50 Best Bars list.
- Dinner: It would have to be a classic, such as Tadich Grill for Cioppino, Zuni Café for the roasted chicken, or Foreign Cinema, with an Audrey Hepburn movie flickering on the back wall on the patio.
- After dinner drink: I'd probably opt for a cocktail at Alembic, a final glass of champagne at the Redwood Room at the Clift Hotel, or maybe a tiki drink at Smuggler's Cove or the Tonga Room at the Fairmont San Francisco.
Which restaurant is still on your list to dine at in San Francisco?
You know, it's like magic (or restaurant voodoo) because as I tick off restaurants from my "must dine" list, new ones pop up and the list grows longer. Full confession: I am almost embarrassed to admit that I have never eaten at Tadich Grill. I really need to get there—and hopefully I have by the time you read this. Sorry, Tadich Grill. I love you, even though I haven't met you yet.
Who do you follow to keep up with San Francisco news?
I follow San Francisco Travel, of course, and SF Gate. But there are also some really great local blogs that I read regularly and subscribe to such as EaterSF. Marcia Gagliardi's Tablehopper.com is a must, too. She really knows what's going on in San Francisco's kitchens! On Instagram, I've been obsessing over @the 415guy. His photos of the city are phenomenal. I didn't think it was possible to make our city look more beautiful, but he does it with every image. Michael, if you're reading, can I follow you around for a day with my camera?
Any last final advice for travelers coming to visit San Francisco?
Bring a sweater. Even on the warmest and sunniest of days (and especially during the summer), the weather can change in a flash. Karl The Fog is always ready to pounce!